I actually wrote a blurb about this a few months back after acquiring the Video Treasures edition of this tape. I had gone out of my way to find a copy, as it had been tirelessly recommended to me by people who swore that it was a great movie. There is no shortage of glowing reviews online which praised the film as being innovative for its period, and while some of the violence is absurd for the time, this movie is otherwise a total piece of shit that probably largely enjoys popularity on an ironic level due to Leif Garrett’s participation. I guess that gives it a booster of kitsch, but as a piece of horror cinema this is an otherwise forgettable outing that had been done before even at that point.
The whole mess begins when a bus accidentally rolls down a hillside and unleashes a pack of mentally ill pre-teen passengers, who then make the trek to a snowy cabin in the woods, where they eventually start to terrorize a group of unlikable protagonists. What’s funny is, I can give you the film’s plot in one sentence, and yet it somehow drags on mercilessly before it actually gets to the meaty core. There are a few quirky sequences during the first half of the film that tease your interest, such as a cat fight with some slivers of nudity, but it's mostly dry and plodding after that. Leif Garrett actually turns in a decent performance as one of the deranged kids under delusions of a Fauntleroy-styled Hollywood stardom, so he does bring legitimate worth to the production. Still, this thing is splitting at the seams with horrible creative decisions, production mismanagement, and shockingly bad editing. In particular, the first on screen death, which is stretched out via slow motion and drably colored, is a harbinger of terribleness to come, and is quite possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid.
If this film is innovative in any sense, it’s probably in that it is one of the first slasher-style films to feature protagonists you don’t like. And it’s not that they’re despicable either and you want to see them die. They’re just a bunch of alcoholic, middle-aged leather bags that are almost on the brink of throwing a key party. They’re just very mild and dull. Meanwhile, the kids are only slightly more interesting but difficult to really appreciate because they seem like a bunch of pretentious theater fags. Eventually, the death count just sort of erupts and they bump all the characters off in rapid succession, so even if you could manage to give a shit about either batch of characters, there’s no room to build suspense.
The film does have one gold deposit, though, and it comes in the shape of albino actress Gail Smale, who plays the homicidal habit wearing nun child. She is conceptually and visually compelling, but it is Smale who really makes the character remarkable. She is not just good by comparison to the other crap she’s book ended by, but rather she is just legitimately good here. The character could have probably carried a feature of her own.
The stories surrounding the production are undoubtedly more interesting that the film itself, but also explain why it was such a mess. Director Sean MacGregor was ousted from his seat due to incompetence and replaced by venerable producer David Sheldon. Most of the film had to be scrapped, but when they did go back to film they were forced to use an entirely different location. Ironically, MacGregor did some time in a mental health facility following his experience on set. There were also some creepy rumors that MacGregor was sleeping with the underage Smale at the time.
I haven't found a copy of the Media Home Entertainment release, but I was surprised by the quality of the Video Treasures release. It's not great, but not as bad as some of their other releases. Still, this is a disappointing mess that makes something like "The Children" seem coherent and very credible by comparison.